Last Wednesday marked World Refugee Day, a day established in 2001 to commemorate the millions of men, women, and children torn from their homes and forced to flee conflicts and atrocities. Eleven years later, the importance of this day remains painfully clear. Last year alone, 800,000 people became refugees, more than any other year since 2000.
In honoring this day, the world should turn its focus to the ever-growing refugee crisis taking place along the contested border between Sudan and South Sudan, as well as to internally displaced populations in Sudan’s Darfur region and in Jonglei state, South Sudan.
Sudanese refugees are fleeing from two principal regions: Blue Nile and South Kordofan, where the government of Sudan continues to target civilians. In South Kordofan, the attacks began in June 2011, just before South Sudan’s independence. Since then, the Sudan Armed Forces, or SAF, continue to carry out house-to-house raids and indiscriminate aerial bombings. The Sudanese government has cynically billed the targeting of civilians as a purely “counter-insurgency” campaign against the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, despite evidence of scorched earth tactics destroying civilian infrastructure. In a recent video, SAF troops are seen burning down an entire village. Fear of bombing and raids have driven thousands of residents of South Kordofan across the border and into Yida refugee camp in South Sudan, a camp that is already being stretched past capacity.
The atrocities in Blue Nile began in September 2011 and, as in South Kordofan, civilians have become prime targets in what some are calling thinly veiled ethnic cleansing. In both South Kordofan and Blue Nile, bombs and gunmen are not the only factors compelling people to flee. As a result of the conflict, residents of these regions have been unable to cultivate their land, and hunger has become a major force driving people southward. The already dire situation in both Blue Nile and South Kordofan has been compounded by the near total lack of humanitarian access.
This deadly combination of hunger and conflict has resulted in unprecedented numbers of refugees flooding across the border. In the last three weeks alone, over 35,000 refugees have fled from Blue Nile into Upper Nile, South Sudan, as many as 4,000 people per day. This influx has brought the total number of refugees in Upper Nile up to 107,404, well beyond the capacity of the state’s two existing camps, Jammam and Doro. Likewise, Yida camp in Unity state, is already home to 37,000 people from South Kordofan, Sudan. Sudanese refugees fleeing hunger and thirst in the North are finding their plight continues once they reach the camps. Nearly filled to capacity, these camps are struggling to care for these refugees with even more streaming in every day. Representatives from Doctors Without Borders have said that the water supply in two camps in Upper Nile state may soon run out. In addition, these camps place pressure on South Sudan’s already fragile economy.
Food and water are not the only concerns for refugees living in Yida camp; security has also become a major issue. The SAF dropped a bomb on the camp in November 2011. Fortunately, none have hit the camp since then, but bombs have reportedly fallen just 15 kilometers north of the camp along the disputed Sudan-South Sudan border.
In addition, the international community must not ignore the fact that many more people have been forced from their homes in places like Darfur and Jonglei. While at least 260,000 Darfuris live as refugees in eastern Chad, hundreds of thousands more Sudanese and South Sudanese live the disjointed and perilous lives of internally displaced persons, or IDPs.
It is difficult to know just how many IDPs have fled from conflict in Darfur, and some estimate the number is as high 1.9 million people. Recently, Darfur has received little attention from the media and when it is covered, the reports portray an overly optimistic picture. The violence in Darfur continues, and very few long-term actions have been taken to resolve the ongoing conflict and allow the IDPs to return home. This conflict must remain on the international community’s radar.
Similarly, in South Sudan, inter-communal violence has plagued Jonglei state, and the conflict has taken a significant toll on the local population; upwards of 50,000 people have been forced to flee their homes. Many remain displaced to this day.
In keeping with the theme from this year’s World Refugee Day: “Refugees have no choice. You do,” Enough urges the international community to choose to act. The international community must apply pressure to both countries to uphold the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2046, a resolution that, among other things, condemns Sudan’s indiscriminate bombing of civilians. The international community must also seek to find more durable solutions, both for the IDPs in Sudan and South Sudan and for the refugees fleeing the border conflict.
Photo: Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia (Enough / Amanda Hsiao)